May 2, 2023

Global Draft: REDBLACKS take DL Blessman Ta’ala first overall

Christian Bender/

TORONTO — The Ottawa REDBLACKS selected and quickly came to terms with defensive lineman Blessman Ta’ala with the first overall pick in the 2023 Global Draft. The club announced his signing just an hour after drafting him on Tuesday morning.

The 24-year-old from American Samoa spent five seasons at the University of Hawaii and was a three-time All-Mountain West honourable mention from 2020-2022.

Over 64 games with the Rainbow Warriors, Ta’ala had 142 total tackles (72 solo) and four sacks. The six-foot-two, 305-pounder tied for the most reps on the bench press at the CFL Combine presented by New Era in Edmonton in March, with 29 and showed well in the one-on-ones against Global and National prospects. 

The REDBLACKS also added Swedish offensive lineman Lucas Lavin, taking him with the first pick in the second round of the draft.

“We’re excited to add two quality players we had identified as being good fits for our club,” REDBLACKS general manager Shawn Burke said. “We’re looking forward to seeing them in camp, and welcoming them to Ottawa.”

View the entire 2023 CFL Global Draft
» Blessman Ta’ala hopes to be the CFL’s next great Hawaiian
View the entire 2023 CFL Draft Order
» Everything you need to know ahead of the 2023 CFL Draft
Where To Watch: 2023 CFL Draft broadcast info
» Mock Draft 2.0: Who is going first overall?
» More CFL Draft news and notes

Ta’ala brings size and strength to the CFL, along with some helpful Hawaiian connections (Christian Bender/

The first round of this year’s Global Draft saw four kickers and/or punters selected. The Edmonton Elks took British kicker Dean Faithfull second overall and the Saskatchewan Roughriders took Australian punter Adam Korsak third overall. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Toronto Argonauts closed out the first round with Australian Jamieson Sheahan (punter) and Alfredo Gachuz Lozada (kicker) at eighth and ninth, respectively. Gachuz Lozada will be attending the Pittsburgh Steelers’ rookie camp later this month.

Faithfull played a season of NCAA Division II football at Colorado State University Pueblo in 2021, making 7-12 field goals and converting 20 extra points. He averaged 58.5 yards on 44 kickoffs, including 24 touchbacks. The six-foot-two kicker played four seasons of NCAA Division II soccer at Florida Tech University before going to Colorado State University Pueblo.

“We look forward to having Dean Faithfull come to camp and compete for the kicking job,” Elks assistant general manager Geroy Simon said. “He has huge upside.”

Korsak was named the 2022 Ray Guy Award winner after his senior season at Rutgers, being named the best punter in the nation. He was a first team All-American (Sporting News) and third team All-American (Phil Steele) and was invited to the Senior Bowl. He leaves the NCAA as its all-time leader in punting attempts (349) and yardage (15,318). A three-year team captain at Rutgers, he was twice named the Scarlet Knight’s special teams MVP.

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats made linebacker Penei Pavihi the second American Samoan player taken in the first round when they snagged him at fourth overall. The 24-year-old played 60 games over five seasons at Hawaii (2017-2022), registering 233 total tackles with 20 tackles for loss, six pass deflections, one forced fumble, three fumble recoveries, six pass deflections and two interceptions. The six-foot-three, 245-pound native of Tafuna, American Samoa posted a career high 10 tackles on Oct. 8, 2022 at San Diego State.

A pair of Swedish players went back-to-back after that, with the Montreal Alouettes taking defensive lineman Simon Lars Sandberg fifth overall and the Calgary Stampeders taking offensive lineman Isaac Moore at sixth.

Sandberg (six-foot-three, 295 pounds) received an All-Pac-12 Honourable mention in 2022 while suiting up for the Oregon State University Beavers, registering 17 tackles and two for losses in 13 games (all starts). The Karlstad native also knocked down two passes. In 40 games during his four years with the Beavers, the 26-year-old amassed 51 tackles, eight for losses, and a sack, on top of knocking down five passes and forcing one fumble. He did well in the CFL Combine in Edmonton, this past March.

Moore (six-foot-seven and 300 pounds) was a five-year starter at left tackle for Temple University and set the Owls record with 57 consecutive games played. He played both offensive line and defensive line for the Oreboro (Sweden) Black Knights before attending Temple.

The BC Lions took Jamaican receiver Jevoni Robinson with their first round pick, at eighth overall. Robinson moved from Jamaica to North Carolina as a teenager. He grew to six-foot-eight and 225 pounds and pursued a pro basketball career in Italy before turning his attention back to football. He was on the Houston Texans’ practice roster in 2017 before playing for the San Antonio Commanders in the AAF and the St. Louis Battlehawks in the XFL this year.

The second and final round of the draft went heavy on punters and linemen. The Tiger-Cats took former University of Miami punter Lou Hedley (Australia) with the fourth pick in the second round, while the Alouettes took fellow Aussie putner Rhys Burns with the fifth pick of the second. The Blue Bombers took Bermudan punter Karl Schmitz with the eighth pick of the second round.

Hedley, 28, played 47 games over four seasons at the University of Miami (2019-2022), registering 206 punts for total of 9,315 yards (45.2 yards per punt) and 77 punts inside the 20. The six-foot-four, 220-pound native of Mandurah, Australia twice earned All-ACC second team honours (2020, 2021), was named a finalist for the Ray Guy award (2020) and signed with the NFL’s New Orleans Saints as an undrafted free agent.

After Lavin was chosen by Ottawa, German offensive lineman Kilian Zierer went immediately after to Edmonton.

The Elks are beaming with optimism about the six-foot-seven Zierer, who spent two seasons at Auburn, starting every game in 2022. He took part in the 2023 East-West Shrine Game and signed with the Houston Texans as a free agent on Monday.

“If we have an opportunity to get Zierer north of the border, he competes as a starter from Day 1,” said Simon.

Italian defensive lineman Habakkuk Baldonado went next to the Roughriders, with French d-lineman Junior Aho went to BC with the seventh pick in the second round.

German linebacker Leno Schroeter went to the Stampeders with the sixth pick in the second round. After playing his high school football at Herington High School in Kansas, Schroeter played for the Cologne Crocodiles of the German Football League and was their special teams player of the year in 2022. He was their most improved defensive player in 2021 and made the German league All-Star team in 2022 after recording 59 tackles including 11 tackles for loss, five sacks, six pass breakups and one forced fumble in 11 games.

British linebacker Emmanuel Falola was the final pick of the draft, going with the ninth pick of the second round to the Argonauts. Falola showed well at the CFL Combine, with his 39.5-inch vertical leap topping all Global prospects and finishing tied for third overall.

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